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Brother Cadfael is used to solving mysteries around Shrewsbury Abbey, but The Potter’s Field presents him with one that’s more baffling than most. Brother Ruald, a former potter, has “cast off” his wife in order to join the order of monks, and the field that he used to work (the potter’s field of the title) has been given as a gift to the abbey by the lord for whom Ruald used to work. All seems in order, until a plow working the potter’s field turns up the body of a woman who looks suspiciously like Ruald’s wife... most suspiciously indeed, as his wife had disappeared shortly after his entry into the monastic orders. As Cadfael works to identify the body and unravel the tale behind it, the story grows even more complex, with the conflicting passions and secrets of the townsfolk coming to light.

Brother Cadfael: The Potter's Field
Movie
The Potter’s Field was originally shown on the BBC as part of the television series based on the Cadfael Chronicles, a series of twenty “medieval mysteries” penned by Ellis Peters. Set in the twelfth century, the episodes center around Shrewsbury Abbey and its order of monks, and most particularly, Brother Cadfael (Derek Jacobi), who is renowned not only for his skill in medicine, but also for his ability to ferret out the solutions to the most puzzling mysteries. The series ran for four years, from 1994 to 1998, and brought a total of thirteen of Peters’ novels to the small screen.

The series as a whole shows a great regard for presenting medieval England accurately and vividly. The scenes within the abbey show that the monks, while united by their vows to the order, nevertheless were as individual as a person in any profession; Father Abbot is frequently the arbitrator of disputes between the monks, who generally hold radically different views on what to do in any given situation. Cadfael is, not surprisingly, the most “modern” of the group, with values that, while not out of line with the possibilities of his time, are still ones that viewers are likely to sympathize with. Humane, deeply interested in human nature, and skeptical of easy answers, Cadfael makes an excellent detective figure while still remaining a part of his society.

As nearly the last installment in the Cadfael series, The Potter’s Field is not necessarily an ideal starting point for viewers unfamiliar with the show. But the episode’s placement in the series isn’t cast in stone: since each episode is based on an individual book, and the books were not filmed or broadcast in publication order, each stands quite well on its own. Viewers who have followed the series from the start, either on television or by buying the episodes as they have been released on DVD, will be familiar with the recurring characters, but new viewers will also quickly get to know the main “players” as well. The story itself is independent of the others, and if the story of The Potter’s Field seems intriguing, it’s as good a place as any to get started.

Brother Cadfael: The Potter's Field
Video
The Cadfael episodes, each running seventy-five minutes long, were originally produced for television, so the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the image is the original. Given that the show is relatively recent, we can expect the quality of the source material to be reasonably high, and in fact the DVD of The Potter’s Field is respectable for a television production. The color scheme is fairly restrained, mainly dealing in tones of brown and gray for many scenes: for instance, the brown robes of the monks and the gray of the abbey stone sets the overall tone of the image. This artistic choice is represented well in the DVD transfer, which maintains good-looking skin tones and other colors when they appear, as in the blue of the sky or greens of foliage.

The main fault with the image is a general grainy look to the image; it appears to be in good shape, as there aren’t print flaws, but it’s not as clear or sharp as one would hope. All in all, it’s very watchable, if not perfect.

Audio
The Potter’s Field comes with a standard Dolby 2.0 soundtrack that handles the demands of the movie reasonably well. There aren’t any outstanding special effects, with dialogue and the music elements of the track being the main focus of the audio track. Both come across reasonably well.

Extras
Acorn Media typically includes a small but moderately interesting set of extras on its releases. The Potter’s Field DVD includes filmographies, information on author Ellis Peters, a production photo gallery, and a short audio interview with star Derek Jacobi.

Brother Cadfael: The Potter's Field
Overall
Anyone who is a fan of the Cadfael series will certainly want to add The Potter’s Field to their collection, as it’s a nice presentation of the material on DVD. For those who haven’t gotten a chance to see any of these episodes, there’s no reason not to start with The Potter’s Field; it’s an enjoyable mystery with an interesting setting.


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